PM Lee’s National Day Rally made a key focus to the issue of racial and religious harmony in Singapore this year. While not something unknown to many, the topic generally is not a conversation starter and usually regarded with an apathetic attitude.
Singapore is well known for its unity amongst it’s diversity. Cohesion between people of different faiths and races is not uncommon in the nation. There are non-Christians studying in Christian Mission Schools, Buddhist organizations distributing meals for the needy regardless of religion, Festive periods of both the Hindu and Malay community celebrated and enjoyed by all.
Even during National Service, the commonly associated rite of passage for any Singaporean boy into manhood, there is a deep integration of all races and religion. All will shed the same sweat and tears and laugh together as each learns the skills to protect those they love.
Importantly, the key lesson learnt from all these results is that for any unity and harmony to be established, exposure, integration and understanding must happen. To remain behind a pair of rose-tinted glasses, one must beware of the lurking thorns from below.
The first step to understand others is to remove all instances of misconception and prejudices. As what Yoda, the amicable green wise master from Star Wars once said, “You must unlearn what you have learnt.”
Its the same when pricking oneself with a needle. Prior understanding would reveal the knowledge that it will hurt and therefore should be feared. But if that misconception of fear is erased and a different understanding portrayed, one would know that the needle is actually quite harmless and can be used to sew.
The world is relatively in the same position toward terrorism and unfortunately some of it’s more infamous propagators association with Islam. The presence of certain religious radicals does not mean that that religion is what it seems. To put in a more historical context, Christians conducted the Crusades centuries ago to much horror, but the faith in context proclaims peacefulness and to love those against you.
People are all different and what makes up your neighbour does not dictate who he is as a person. When preconceptions are removed, friendships forged, natural understanding and tolerance will set in.
But if in the beginning one is not exposed because of one reason or another, there will never be the first step to begin with. After all, while you have to bite the apple to know if it is sweet, you have to recognize and accept the presence of the apples first.
Therefore, Singapore’s achievement in this aspect by encouraging and sometimes placing people from all walks of life to coexist together, has resulted in a strong formula in the country’s need to maintain religious and racial harmony.
It is not an easy struggle as a single spark and an inappropriate resolution of differences between groups can lead to drastic situations. And in the process of maintaining the harmony, one cannot ignore it and take it for granted. As PM Lee had said, while the swan appears to glide gracefully above the water, the legs are paddling furiously below.
Racial and religious harmony should become a more common topic in the lives of Singaporeans. After all, it is this key feature that has propelled and kept Singapore to what it is today. Introduce to the young the values of racial harmony and the respect for other faiths, and when they are matured enough to look at a deeper perspectve, reinforce that education through the comprehension of “why” and “how”. By doing so, we will be on a stronger ground to propel Singapore forward in gusto for a very long time to come.